Learning To Listen

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Posted on January 21, 2016

‘ to Bruce Dumont, President, M’tis Nation British Columbia (MNBC)
In recent years, Canadian companies have learned the importance of identifying and including stakeholders. In an age of social media, outreach and consensus-building have become essential tools for managing some of the many risks attached to resource development and other big-ticket projects.
 

 
Among the most important stakeholders across Canada are First Nations and M’tis communities. The learning curve for those on both sides of these relationships is often steep and occasionally treacherous, marked by mutual mistrust and misinformation.
Bruce Dumont, president of the M’tis Nation British Columbia (MNBC), tells Perspectives about his experience and why the people he leads matter so much to the future of Canada.
 
‘The M’tis people have always been guides for those who have sought to explore new frontiers. It was true in the earliest history of Canada and it’s still true today. Instead of guiding trappers and traders, we are helping to guide corporate Canada with a number of projects. Our guidance includes identifying potential environmental concerns, business partnerships, employment opportunities and benefits to our M’tis communities in British Columbia.
We acquired that role in the past because we knew how to survive. We could survive a harsh winter, live off the land, and communicate with many Aboriginal Peoples. We also survived by creating a community when no one wanted to claim us—not the First Nations and not the Europeans. There was always animosity toward us as ‘half breeds,’ that indecent word.
That lack of belonging made us quick studies. Because our land claims have not been resolved, we have greater mobility and can more easily go where the work is and where the opportunity is.
As guides, our heritage is in the service sector. We are entrepreneurs, survivors who are good at business. Thousands of M’tis work in the resource sector, including on pipelines that run across the West.
Section 35 of the Constitution recognizes our rights, even though they existed before then. Section 35 and the Crown’s Duty to Consult and accommodate, set out after 2004, mean that Canadian companies understand they have to deal with us. To give you an idea of what that means, right now, we have 42 projects in British Columbia from the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency to review.
The Duty to Consult was a real game-changer for all Aboriginal people and for the companies we work with. There’s been a real mixed approach: some really get it and don’t hesitate to try and make it work from the start. Others are slower and still have a lot to learn about our culture, history and heritage and how it affects their agenda.
When they start to work with the M’tis, companies are usually impressed by how organized we are and how business-like we are. With us as one governing entity they aren’t dealing with dozens and dozens of different governing communities with different languages and traditions. We have one heritage, one language. And we have a history of working together to protect and fight for our rights.
We have very structured governance and very clear goals around training, impact benefit agreements and legacies. We want a legacy for our people: partnerships, employment, training, a future. And because we are hunters and gatherers and we rely on fishing and trap lines, the environment is also very important. We are stewards of the land.
We have also learned how to negotiate over many generations. We have boilerplate templates ready for documents, letters of intent. We also know how to assess proponents.
We know what we’re looking for in a partner. The trust factor is important. And in the first meeting, it’s important to show you’ve done your homework, that you know who we are.
It’s been a long fight to be recognized as stakeholders. For a long time we were lumped together with First Nations and there was no understanding of the differences. There was no appreciation that we all speak different languages and we’re not all the same. Not at all. The cultural piece is tricky with each First Nation. We don’t have that.
We used to have to look for business partnerships and now they come to us. In northwestern B.C., all those pipelines and LNG projects will need our support and input. There are 10,000 M’tis along the pipeline corridor, plus another 60,000 throughout the province.
If you want our support, you need to know a few things. No approval in B.C. comes without majority support from our 35 charter communities. Our rules on that are clear. We are a cohesive community. The other thing is that we want training and education and jobs. And all that has to be set out clearly.’

We have very structured governance and very clear goals around training, impact benefit agreements and legacies. We want a legacy for our people: partnerships, employment, training, a future.

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